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Office Courtesy: Meeting the Public

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Office Courtesy: Meeting the Public

Published 1952

Assisted by an instructive dream, a secretary learns how to be more personable and thus render her job more enjoyable.

Run time 10:34
Producer Encyclopaedia Britannica Films
Sponsor N/A
Audio/Visual Sd, B&W



Ken Smith sez: A "bad" receptionist learns from her "good" receptionist roommate how improving her attitude can make her job more enjoyable. In a dream sequence the "bad" receptionist is stuck in a hellish office with an equally bad receptionist behind the desk -- herself!!! The bad girl reforms and becomes lovely and happy.
Offices have the reputation of being clean, placid environments, and for most of us office work seems preferable to labor in factories, kitchens, or parking lots. At the same time, there's a downside: offices are also a perfect breeding ground for abnormal psychology.
White-collar work has always been associated with a strong emphasis on manners, conduct, etiquette, and propriety. Perhaps this relates to its mystique as a more genteel alternative to the factory, or maybe the perceived need to regulate the behavior of large numbers of lower-paid women. But the focus on "doing the right thing" that permeates almost all office training films renders them key artifacts of social control. Historically, the office has been the place where young workers (primarily women) have been socialized and taught appropriate behavior, which in America equals training in "middle-classness" (for a related perspective, see Social Class in America on this disc).
Films like Office Courtesy, Office Etiquette, Duties of a Secretary, Take a Letter From A to Z and I Want to Be a Secretary position the office as a place where young workers (mostly women) are socialized and taught appropriate behavior, and where social hierarchies learned elsewhere are reinforced. Office Courtesy depicts social control as a covert process, a disturbing vision of how manipulation occurs through etiquette, masked by empathy, courtesy and smiles.
As the expressionistic montage of angry men at its beginning makes clear, Office Courtesy is very much about instructing women on how to behave courteously towards their male superiors. Many kinds of behavior need to be learned: subordination to visitors, customers and supervisors; repression of emotions, positive transference and projection ("people behave to you as you do to them, and if you are nice to people they will usually be nice to you too"). In white-collar culture, these threads run deep. Many typewriting textbooks published during this period contain practice exercises which are catechistic statements on proper conduct and etiquette.
Office Courtesy also covertly instructs women in the "office wife" syndrome. The office wife (see supplemental sections for this film) is the judicious, undemanding, unemotional, well-behaved secretary/spouse, always ready to anticipate the boss's needs. In her head resides a whole psychology of institutionalized service and inferiority. While the housewife is surrounded by children and appliances, the office wife spends the day surrounded by paper and mechanical devices.
Like so many other educational films, Office Etiquette utilizes the well-worn "Goofus and Gallant" strategy. Here, Goofus is Barbara, a troubled woman who wants to quit her job because she can't easily handle meeting people, and Gallant is Ruth, considerably more centered than Barbara. Ruth, who is played by the same actor that plays the wife in The Best Made Plans (see the Tireless Marketers disc) says: "Why, meeting people is the thing I like most about my job. I think it's fun having new people come into the office all the time." Ruth tries to teach Barbara about projection Ñ that people behave to you as you do to them, and that if you're nice to people they'll usually be nice to you too Ñ but it takes a nightmare to turn Barbara's mind around.
How many of us have had nightmares about the office? They're a fixture in office training films, too. Barbara's takes place in "Mr. Franklin's office," and is filled with expressionistic details: tapping feet, ominous music, people waiting in vain for their appointments, insistently ringing phones, frustration and anger, a snippy secretary, and finally a confrontation with her double. The dream restores Barbara's lost appetite for dinner and with it, her optimism. "In the days that followed," says the narrator, "Barbara did her best to acquire a genuine interest in people. Where she found that smiles are effective only when they're genuine." She becomes a more functional accessory for her boss, and learns important lessons: how to turn away a plaintive visitor "firmly, without making an enemy of him" and not to chew gum in the office. The story ends on a positive note. "...Because of her changed attitude, the duties which had once been a nightmare for her, became instead the pleasant and exciting experience of meeting the public." Barbara has come of age as a good office wife.



Reviewer: JayKay49 - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - October 8, 2012
Subject: A Changed Secretary
One bad day and this one goes home with an attitude that her roommate advises that she change. One Manhattan (not seen downed) before dinner and she passes out on a chair and sees herself as a mean old hag and once awakened has an epiphany that turns her into all smiles and a crafty thing that acts like a bouncer in the lobby of her bosses office.

Life wasn't so bad for a secretary at mid century. Enough money to share a place with a pleasant roommate with a good set of pots and pans, and cute petsy plaques on the wall. Minimal room for a dining room table...but so what. Girls like her got to go out, pick a man, (most were straight in those days) cross her fingers and hope she was pickin a good one; and, if her choice was a good one, one day live in a sumptuous house in the 'burbs.

It sure beats a lot of things - then and now.

Come to think of it, I like it. In my next life, I want to be a mid-20th century secretary working downtown, with good teeth; shapely, with a nice pair of points, a sunny office with a window, preferably high floor, and the ability to type at 76 wpm and know shorthand like the back of my hand! Yes! I'm inspired.

Thank you Britannica!

Reviewer: ERD - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - May 14, 2006
Subject: A good motivational film for secretaries
Nothing wrong in learning that it is more effective to have a good attitude and take pride in your position. I enjoyed this 1952 film. The main actresses were excellent. Good script and direction.
Reviewer: Marysz - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - March 2, 2006
Subject: Being Good at a Job that Goes Nowhere
"The people who come into the office, theyÃÂÃÂre so rude and inconsiderate! ItÃÂÃÂs more than I can handle!" complains the rebellious Barbara to her docile roommate Ruth in this 1952 film. Like "Habit Patterns and "Are You Popular?" other films in the Archive made in the fifties, this film instructs young women in submissive and inoffensive behavior. We see cranky Barbara at her job, struggling at the typewriter and being "snippy" to a parade of middle-aged men who come to see her boss. Her bossÃÂÃÂs business doesnÃÂÃÂt seem very successfulÃÂÃÂthe office looks shabby and the men themselves look worn and bedraggled, which gives the film an unintended pathos. Back at the apartment, Barbara falls asleep and finds herself in a "nightmare" office, with a rude secretary. When she sees the secretaryÃÂÃÂs faceÃÂÃÂitÃÂÃÂs Barbara herself! Only this ur-Barbara looks more interestingÃÂÃÂsheÃÂÃÂs dressed in a black glittery outfit and has a sense of self-assurance that suggests that this dream is telling Barbara that she has some hidden potential. Needless to say, the film goes in the other directionÃÂÃÂBarbara wakes up, sees the error of her ways and is now as compliant as Ruth. The rest of the film is taken up with hints on dealing with the public but this film never explores the dead-end nature of clerical work like this for women. I suppose the assumption was that they would eventually get married anyway. The real nightmare in this film is that no matter how good Barbara and Ruth are at their jobs, theyÃÂÃÂre completely expendable.
Reviewer: EB442 - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - December 29, 2005
Subject: Very Good
I really love this one. That whole nightmare sequence could give you your own nightmares, so watch out.

Also, the opening titles for this film say ÃÂÃÂÃÂéMCMLIII, aka ÃÂÃÂÃÂé1953, not 1952.
Reviewer: Spuzz - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - December 1, 2003
Subject: 'The Boss will sleep with you now'
A very bizarre technicolor EB production about good secretaries vs bad secretaries. 'Ruth' decides to quit her job because the people there are so hard to deal with. Her Roommate (sister? Lover?) tells her to think about it and they'll talk about it after dinner. Ruth agrees to this and sits on a chair and almost instantly falls asleep. She has a dream where both Rush and Dorothy are in an office with a very rude secretary who doesnt answer the phone, is rude to people wanting to see the boss, and keeps people waiting. Ruth just can't take this anymore and approaches the lady to realize, (oh the shock!) that it's herself! Snapping out of the dream, she dedicates herself to making herself more friendlier and a much more people-person.
Rather unattractive lead actress, loopy situations and beautiful color makes this of course a MUST SEE on this site!
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